Harpersfield, NY – By Jack Mazurak

Staff Writer

Propane company rep says nearby pilot light may have caused blaze

HARPERSFIELD — Until flames roaring from a broken pipeline die out, firefighters can only watch.

Fire officials said Monday afternoon they hoped a propane line that exploded Sunday night in Harpersfield and destroyed a house would burn out by this morning. Until then, they said, an investigation can’t begin.

A leak in the 8-inch line near a valve at the corner of Quaker Hill Road and Parker Schoolhouse Road ignited at 7:16 p.m., possibly because of a pilot light in a nearby home, said Michael LeRose, regional manager for pipeline owner Texas Eastern Products Propane Co.

No one was injured in the blast or the ensuing fire, Delaware County Emergency Service Coordinator Nelson Delameter said.

A small army of TEPPCO representatives, construction crews with trucks and an excavator, firefighters and other emergency workers lined Parker Schoolhouse Road on Monday.

Fire and emergency medical service crews from Davenport, Stamford and East Meredith rotated watch over the 30- to 50-foot flames throughout Sunday night.

Only the scorched ground remained where the home of Gys and Cheryl Seacord stood, about 200 feet from the spot where flames still shot from the ground.

Davenport firefighters said when they arrived about 10 minutes after the blast, only one stud in the whole home was standing.

They said extinguishing the pipeline’s flame would let raw propane continue to flow and risk another explosion.

At a media conference Monday afternoon in the Harpersfield Town Hall, LeRose said nothing was certain. “We don’t know exactly how it happened,” he said. “It would be premature to speculate until a third party can investigate.

“Propane requires a separate ignition source — perhaps a furnace, an electric spark or a pilot light could have done it,” he said.

LeRose said the pipeline carried liquid propane at about 900 pounds per square inch. He said about 5,000 barrels of liquid propane were in the 17-mile section that was closed off shortly after the explosion. LeRose said pressure was down to about 110 psi after the explosion.

“We’re flaring it now — it’s the safest thing to do,” he said.

Delameter said Gys Seacord, who owned the double-wide trailer that burned down, was home at the time of the blast, while his wife was not.

“He said he heard a strange noise that sounded like a plow going by, but it kept getting louder,” Delameter said. “He went outside and saw a white cloud coming towards his house.”

Delameter said Seacord had run back inside to shut off his electricity and stove when the front of the house ignited.

Two dogs also made it out of the house, he said, but one, a green-collared Doberman named Sadie, was still missing Monday afternoon.

James Eisel, Harpersfield supervisor, said about 10 families were evacuated within a half-mile radius of the blast.

“Until the fire goes out, we can’t allow people back into their homes,” Eisel said. “We’re lucky everyone got out without injuries.”

Charles Newman, Delaware County undersheriff, said his department was investigating with the state Department of Public Service. “Our No. 1 concern is for public safety and people’s houses,” he said.